The new football season maybe underway but some attitudes don't seem to evolve anything like as fast as the rules of the game itself. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are still too widespread in top flight football - indeed, too widespread in many different sports.
Aaron Ramsdale Photo: AFC Bournemouth
CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale has vowed that he will call out homophobia in football, admitting he has stayed quiet in the past, but that 'ends today'. There's currently just one openly gay male footballer in England's top four divisions after Blackpool's Jake Daniels came out in May 2022. There are many more gay players in the men's game but they don't say anything because of the fear of homophobia.

Aaron's brother is gay and now the England goalkeeper says he will no longer tolerate homophobia in the football world when he encounters it.

"Ollie is the real superstar of the family. He's the brave one. Three weeks before he was supposed to leave for uni in Bedford, he told my parents that he had a change of heart. He didn't want to become a PE teacher. He wanted to chase his real dream and go to drama school."

"He's lived his life in an open and authentic way since he went off to school. Ollie is a lot like me, in many ways. He's a regular bloke. Loves football. Loves knocking about with his mates. Loves the Gunners. He's proud of me, and I'm really proud of him."

"I want this game I love to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone. I want my brother, Ollie - or anyone of any sexuality, race or religion - to come to games without having to fear abuse. Over the years, I've probably bit my tongue a few too many times whenever I hear homophobic comments or stupid things being said. I think maybe my brother has done the same, thinking it would make my life easier. All that ends today."

Aaron and Ollie aren't the only people who've had to overcome those fears. Research carried out for Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign shows that:

  • 43% of LGBT people think public sporting events aren't a welcoming space for LGBT people.
  • 14% of LGBT pupils are bullied during sports lessons.
  • 11% of LGBT people have been discriminated against while exercising at a fitness club or taking part in group sport in the previous year.
  • 56% of sport fans who saw Rainbow Laces agree that more needs to be done to make LGBT people feel accepted in sport.
From a young age, many lesbian, gay, bi and trans people get the message that they are not welcome in sport. Stonewall's campaign is trying to change that. Most sport fans and players do welcome and accept LGBT teammates and fans, but we can't let a small but vocal minority spoil the game for everyone else.

To make sport everyone's game we need to come together to show that we support LGBT fans and players - as fans, players, clubs, leagues, governing bodies and sponsors. Whether or not you love sport, you can still play your part in helping the next generation of LGBT people thrive in sport by spreading the word about their Rainbow Laces campaign.

Rainbow Laces is celebrating 10 years this season and they certainly have come a long way. Now, it's time to Lace Up to Keep It Up. Since Rainbow Laces kicked off in 2013, over a million of you have laced up in support of LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport, fitness and physical activity. But this must-win game isn't over yet. Keep up raising awareness. Keep up supporting each other. Keep up pushing to make sure sport and fitness is for everyone.

So can homophobia ever be kicked out of sport? OutUK's Adrian Gillan asks Out for Sport, Stonewall FC midfielder Marc Short (right) and a former Sport England supremo if openly gay people in sport will always be segregated, playing in gay-only teams or in a queer league of their own.

"I dislike the term 'segregated' in relation to gay sport," says Out for Sport (OFS) chief Ivan Bussens. "I prefer to think of LGB sports clubs offering a safe and welcoming environment for people who may be gay. Additionally, these clubs encourage participation in healthy lifestyles and particularly in the 'gay community' so often seen through an alcoholic haze at smokey nightclubs."

OFS is a volunteer-run umbrella group which offers LGB sports clubs and individuals the opportunity to cooperate and share experiences, and aims to become a representative body for LGB sport in the London Region. In the past, OFS has facilitated the joint organisation of multi-sport events such as the Sydney Gay Games - organising opening ceremony team tops for everyone under the 'OFS GB' banner - and has helped some sports clubs to successfully access government grant aid.

Continues Bussens: "The benefits to well-being of participation in sport are well known. These benefits are particularly important to people that may be living with HIV. LGB sports clubs offer everything a 'mainstream' equivalent would - plus a support structure more suited to like minded people."

"But LGB sports people in the UK are not always excluded from mainstream, integrated amateur sports," he insists. "Exclusion - due a lack of suitable education, information and role models - all depends on the relative enlightenment of the particular sports club and how the 'out' individual presents themselves."

But any possible limited acceptance within amateur sport seems not to translate into the professional world. Apart from Jake Daniels there are pretty much no 'out' pro sports stars in the UK, and only a small number of examples from overseas. It's true that footballer Thomas Beattie also came out, but that was only after he moved away from the sport and became a businessmen.

Ivan Bussens goes on to explain more: "There are people like Canadian swimmer and Olympic gold medallist Mark Tewksbury and Australian Rugby League player Ian Roberts. Their main problem has been - as with Navratilova and other lesbian tennis stars - that coming out is likely to adversely affect their income due to what sponsors at least perceive as adverse media and public reaction."
Canadian swimmer and Olympic gold medallist Mark Tewksbury is one of the few pro athletes who've said they're gay.
Photo courtesy
The Gay Games, which OFS is involved in, is in fact open to all sexual persuasions and welcomes a small number or straight entrants, so it cannot be described as segregated. But would the endgame surely be for LGB sports folk to become so accepted within mainstream sport, amateur and professional, that the Games - and OFS - become redundant?

Says Bussens: "Like OFS, the Gay Games is a movement which is trying to effect a change towards the broader acceptance of LGB people through participation and inclusion in sport. Ultimately, a shift may occur where there is such widespread acceptance of LGBT people that the need for the Gay Games, and us, will cease to exist - until then I believe the both are valid."



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